The 11.75-inch perch Milla Quintiliani caught at last Saturday’s Kids Fishing Day at Beck Lake Recreation Area seemed bigger out of the water than in.
She lugged it to the measuring station in a plastic bucket.
“It took a lot of strength to carry,” said the 7-year-old, whose fish placed second in her category.
The annual event was open to children 14 and younger and some of the little ones who brought in big ones in the accompanying derby did not finish their work until after the fish left its habitat. If you catch it, you carry it.
About 175 kids signed up to learn about fishing and to catch their own fish under sunny skies on a pleasantly sunny day.
Instruction in how to release caught fish, how to spot invasive species, how to tie knots and how to cast was included in the day’s package, wrapped around a hot dog lunch.
The Cody Optimists Club, which has been doing this for about 20 years aided by Game and Fish, the Shoshone National Forest and the East Yellowstone Chapter of Trout Unlimited, considers this not only a family fun day, but something that can stoke a lifetime of fishing in youngsters.
“We want to expose the kids to an outdoor activity,” said George Simonton, a long-time Trout Unlimited member. “If a kid can have fun the first time he goes fishing, he’ll want to go fishing again. Some people say, ‘I’ve been bringing my kids here for five or 10 years.’”
Dave Sweet of Trout Unlimited demonstrated knot tying, six kids at a time.
“We’re going to learn how to hook onto your fishing line,” he said.
Sweet asked how many had done this task before and three hands were raised.
Over at the casting instruction, it was easy to tell that Tade Geving had done that before as he threw high and long. Geving, 13, later would bring in a 19.50-inch carp for third place.
“I was casting since I was a little kid,” said Geving, who thinks the first fish he ever caught was a brown trout at Sunlight Basin.
Children scrambled in small groups over a small fishing boat on the hunt for invasive species stickers after being informed why Asian carp, zebra mussels and curly leaf pond weed are bad for Wyoming waters and what they look like.
The youths reported back in and running totals were kept.
“I found a zebra mussel,” shouted out Amelia Kousoulos, 13. As she bent to look under the boat, she yelled, “I found an Asian carp.”
Kousoulos wasn’t sure if she discovered more invasive species than anyone else, but Game and Fish regional invasive species specialist Alexander LeCheminant directed his remarks to all the participants: “You’re great detectives.”
He provided a reward of candy, even if some of the children’s parents may have thought the sweets were invasive species.
G&F biologist Jason Burckhardt was in charge at fish handling of rainbow trout delivered for stocking from Clarks Fork Hatchery. The goal was to teach the youngsters how to release a fish without harming themselves or the fish, especially if hooks are involved.
The fish, Burckhardt told them, are “nice and soft and slimy.” The first children up in the group had never handled a fish. Four-year-old Daisha Moore screamed when the fish squirmed, but yelled, “I want to do it again.”
Soon enough, the youths were catching cutthroats, perch, rainbows, black crappie, carp, tiger muskie, catfish, suckers and tiger muskie.
The Beardall clan rolled up to the measuring station, Colby with a 12.75-inch rainbrow trout that took first place in that category and a 12-incher. Jarom brought in a 10-inch cutthroat and a 10-inch perch.
“I got the biggest one,” Colby, 8, proclaimed.
Rocky Tucker, 3, caught an 11-inch catfish, the only one measured that day.
There was no official prize for traveling the farthest to participate, but the Tressel family probably was the undisputed champ.
Dad Alex is from Berlin. The family has recently been based in New Mexico, but has been traveling extensively. Word of the Kids Fishing Day came to them while they were at Mammoth Hot Springs.
So everyone, including Ben, 8, Annabelle, 5, and Adeline, 4, rose at 4 a.m. to drive to Cody to participate.
“He wants to learn how to fish and hunt,” Alex said of Ben.
Ben’s motivation for taking up fishing was pure.
“I get to eat the fish,” he said.
Alas, he didn’t catch any fish to eat during the derby.
Kids Fishing Day
Perch - 1) Ryder Gideon, 12 inches; 2) Milla Quintilani, 11.75; 3) (tie) Bryden Seig and Belle Oulette, 11; 5) (tie) Jarom Beardall, Reese Ouelette, Ayla Seig, Bryden Seig and Andrew Legler, 10 inches.
Rainbow Trout - 1) Colby Beardall, 12.75 inches; 2 (tie) Daisha Moore, Wesley Law and Colby Beardall, 12 inches; 5) (tie) Cheyenne Cassiter and Mateo McArthur, 11.75 inches.
Cutthroat Trout - 1) Jayla Scheid, 19.25 inches; 2) Jarius Scheid, 19; 3) (tie) Harper Williams and Jayden Scheid, 18.50; 5) (tie) Katie Gideon and Hannah Lynn, 18.
Black Crappie - 1) (tie) Jayden Scheid and Harper Williams, 8 inches; 3) (tie) Jayla Scheid and Chloe Tucker, 7.75; 5) (tie) Katie Gideon and Hannah Lynn, 18.
Carp - 1) Evie Custer, 24 inches; 2) Hannah Lynn, 21; 3) Tade Geving, 19.50.
Brown Trout - 1) Bayley Gideon, 19 inches.
Tiger Muskie - 1) Chloe Tucker, 16 inches.
Sucker - 1) Katie Gideon, 18.75 inches.
Catfish - 1) Rocky Tucker, 11 inches.